CEDAR FALLS — When Bryce Paup left the University of Minnesota football program after one season on the coaching staff, he didn’t know his next destination.
University of Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley had a suggestion — return to the Panther program where the former UNI All-American and 11-year NFL veteran coached from 2013-16.
In late July, Paup accepted that offer.
“He asked me, and I was kind of like, ‘I’m not sure,’” Paup recalled Wednesday at UNI’s preseason media day. “Mentally, I was not there for a while. Then, he came back and said, ‘What do you think?’ And, I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I want to do it again.
“It is hard to stay out of the game. It is not so much that I have to be in the game, but I need to be in the game if that makes sense. You have to have a passion that gets you out of bed and mine is helping people, and I do that through the game of football. I needed to be back.”
Paup’s return gives UNI another coach with big-time experience and allows David Braun, whom Farley said did a commendable job with the defensive line in 2017, to move into a full-time special teams role, something UNI has not had in recent seasons.
“I don’t think there was any one phone call, but it was more of an interest, a fit and the timing,” Farley said of getting Paup back. “There is a trust there, and it all came together because we have known each other for so long.
“When you choose to come back you have a great understanding of this place and understand the importance of this place.”
Paup’s two star pupils during his first stint on UNI’s staff — Xavier Williams (Kansas City Chiefs) and Karter Schult (Carolina Panthers) — are in the NFL.
“I’m comfortable,” Paup said. “I know the kids or at least most of the kids. Obviously, the ones that came in this year, I wasn’t involved with recruiting them.
“But it is just a good place to be. The kids are different here. They have a chip on their shoulder. They want to be good. They listen to you, and they work hard. What more can you ask for as a coach? It is just one of those situations where it is a great fit.”
FEELING THE GRIND: The Panthers had not suffered any major injuries through five practices, including their first padded practice Tuesday.
Farley noted potential starting tackle Spencer Brown suffered a hand injury that has slowed him, but added most of what UNI is dealing with right now on the injury front has to do with the daily grind of practice.
“Starting to see the fatigue things here and there,” Farley said. “The hamstrings, hip flexors ... those occurred yesterday. It was the last run of the day, the last route of the day. Those type of things happen every season, but nothing too serious. Most of those guys will be back in two, three, five days.”
DEPTH UP FRONT: Farley has 19 offensive linemen in camp, including Wyoming graduate transfer Brinkley Jolly.
Jolly, a native of Liberty, Mo., was initially linked to Southern Methodist, but arrived in Cedar Falls just before the start of camp. The 6-foot-5, 277-pound Jolly started Wyoming’s final seven games in 2016 and one in 2017.
A converted tight end, one of Jolly’ starts for the Cowboys came in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl.
“We have a really good offensive line,” Farley said. “But you always want to make sure you have enough depth on that line to do what we want to do. He brings the experience factor. He is old enough to come in at that back-up role and be there when needed. It will take time to get him prepared, but we will have him prepared when that time comes.”
EARLY IMPRESSION: Farley said a trio of incoming freshmen have shown enough to at least be in the conversation for early playing time.
Those three are defensive back Taj Moffett of University Place, Wash., and a pair of wide receivers — Deion McShane of Freeport, Ill., and Eric Mooney of West Dundee, Ill.
McShane, at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, could figure in the return game, while Mooney is converting from quarterback.
All three have one common trait — speed to burn.
“Three that have jumped at me,” Farley said. “Moffett because he is so smooth. Corners are corners, they are like running backs you just can see it. You just know it when you see it. Then you figure out how to teach them and make them better. Deion has a skill set we are trying to figure out, and Eric Mooney is another one that has a skill set that, ‘Okay, what can we do with this?’
“Freshmen are either really big or have good speed and those guys are speed guys.”